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Essays

Moseying: Locations of Interest

Horsehead Crossing
August 7, 2002

“Horsehead Crossing isn’t where the marker at the end of the county road says it is.” Ernest Woodward should know. He runs cows along the south side of the Pecos River and up in the mesas to the south. “My grandmother came across in a covered wagon, and she showed me where it was. It’s a half-mile upstream – one of the few places there is a gravel-bottom to the river.” Mr. Woodward visited our duck-hunting camp a few years back and spent an hour “jawing.”

The Goodnight-Loving cattle trail crossed the Rio Pecos at Horsehead Crossing. Every Llanero knows that. Isn’t Loving’s tragic story told to every school child on the southern Llano Estacado? There should not be a soul within 100 miles that does not know the story. The story has been told a thousand times – around campfires, in books, and in the movies.

Every Llanero knows how Horsehead Crossing got its name, too. If your child does not, call their school and ask them why. Go to your school and tell them to order books about west Texas. Start off with books by Patrick Dearen which have some mighty fine stories of the Pecos River. Add some Elmer Kelton and Larry McMurtry, to the mix, but don’t stop there. Call KOSA Channel 7 and ask Sam Conn to do a story on the crossing, and then ask the station to donate a copy of the video tape to every school in the region.

Every child should get to go on a field trip to the crossing and hear the stories of the place while there. On the same trip the kids should go to Castle Gap and look for Maximillian’s Gold, and then go to Lago de Juan Cardona so the kids can get salt like the Ciboleros on their way to the fall hunting camps. Fort Stockton should be visited as well, so every child knows about the buffalo soldiers.

“It’s the armpit of creation, the ugliest place in the world – why should anyone want to go to Horsehead Crossing? Las Vegas it is not. It ain’t Hawaii, neither.” The crossing is easy to hate… alkali dust, 110 F. degree temperatures, a salt-cedar choked ditch below creosote bush flats. “It is a place to understand the depth of the human spirit,” is my answer to those folks.

I get carried away with my enthusiasm for knowing the stories of our homeland, I know. “Horsehead Crossing was important to human commerce for thousands of years. It was a “chokepoint,” like a mountain pass, one of the few places a physical barrier to travel could be crossed. So many people crossed there -- conquistadores, ciboleros, stagecoach passengers, cattle drovers, Jumano traders, Cabeza de Vaca, Major Robert Neighbors, the Boundary Survey of 1857, and the list goes on. If you do not know the stories the place is easy to hate, but knowledge brings love, patriotism, and pride to one’s soul. If you camp at the crossing and learn the stories, your life changes.” I fall into lecture mode if given half a chance.

I have camped and canoed along that stretch of the Pecos east of Imperial a dozen times. (Put the heaviest person at the prow of the canoe– you don’t get stuck too bad in the quicksand shallows.) My friends and I have often hunted ducks along the river (thousands of wigeons, ringneck ducks, and others spend the winter.) I have awakened alongside at daybreak with ice on the inside of my sleeping bag from my condensed breath and the outside temperature reading 5 degrees Fahrenheit. During one camping trip along the Rio Pecos north of the crossing, my goddaughters decided the howls of the coyotes were the voices of all the Comanches that once used Horsehead Crossing.

The coyotes of the Pecos are smart, crafty, devious and wise. Duck hunters must be sure of their shots. If a duck is merely wounded and lands in the thickets of salt bush, salt cedar, pickleweed, alkali sacaton, and mesquite, the coyotes will find it and spirit it away within minutes. The coyotes shadow the duck hunters, peering around the vegetation with only their yellow eyes showing, and if you see them, they wink and vanish. When you leave camp, the coyotes visit, licking the breakfast dishes clean before lifting their leg in disdain. Don’t leave your suggans (bedroll) on the ground!

Visit Horsehead Crossing and let the coyotes be your guide. Follow them along the twisty-turny river (an eighty foot gain in distance towards the Girvin Bridge is gained by a half-mile loop as the river flows.) Look at a coyote’s tracks and marvel how many snail shells are in the silty patch of one pawmark. Walk through the pasture along a line of pickleweed that mark the 150 years old ruts of stagecoaches and you might find where the coyotes have left a calling card on a trap set for them. The coyotes are tricksters, you know, although sometimes “just a mite crude.” Camp out at the crossing and listen to the songs of the coyotes – they know the stories of our homeland.

Sibley Nature Center
1307 E. Wadley, Midland, Texas 79705
phone 432.684.6827
email info@sibleynaturecenter.org